SOUNDGARDEN – DOWN ON THE UPSIDE (1996)

KYUSS – …AND THE CIRCUS LEAVES TOWN (1995)

July 11th, 1995, KYUSS released their fourth album, “…And The Circus Leaves Town,” through Elektra Records. This was the band’s swansong, with the Californian four-piece calling it quits three months after its release. While the album didn’t receive the attention or critical acclaim of its predecessors, “Blues For The Red Sun” and “Welcome To Sky Valley,” it deserves to be held in high regard. The fact the band dissolved so soon after it hit shelves and Elektra’s unwillingness to promote the album coloured opinions on the merits of the music within. The truth is, while not a perfect album, “..And The Circus Leaves Town” should be valued as much as their previous efforts.

By the time Kyuss had entered Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, to begin recording the follow-up to “Welcome To Sky Valley,” founding member Brant Bjork had already left the band the previous year. His replacement was Alfredo Hernández of desert rock legends Yawning Man. The album’s creation was fraught with tension. In an article on the album’s 20th anniversary, vocalist John Garcia would cite Circus as “a horrible fucking record to make” and that “Josh and I were clashing all the time and had creative differences.”

In a 2009 interview, Scott Reeder confirmed the strained atmosphere, citing the following: “While recording Circus, so much money was just getting thrown out the window. We were in one of the most expensive studios in Hollywood just for recording overdubs. People running around to get you food, cigarettes, anything you wanted. We could’ve been in a smaller place with a couple of good microphone preamps, got the mix done in the expensive place, and we would’ve all walked away with a bunch of money, but it just got blown. There was also a bit of bickering, and I was pretty stressed. Too many weird vibes. It wasn’t the way things are supposed to be…”

The band’s approach differed slightly on “..And The Circus Leaves Town.” The songs feel paired down and more direct. While Kyuss’ music has always been at its best when given room to expand and sprawl, the shorter, tighter arrangements give the album a feeling of immediacy. This wasn’t an entirely new concept for Kyuss; songs like “Allen Wrench” and “100°” from “Welcome To Sky Valley” were short, sharp shocks, but they sat among gargantuan desert rock jams and acted, almost as palate cleansers on the way to the next epic. Previously, the untamed enormity of their sound and concept could hardly be contained within the conventional song structures associated with rock. On “…And The Circus Leaves Town”, they embraced tighter forms and shorter song times.

Whether this was predetermined or an unspoken, natural progression is unclear. After the incredible scale of the previous albums, the exploration of a more concise approach is intriguing. The album opens with “Hurricane” and immediately introduces new drummer Alfredo Hernández’s pummelling beats before the band falls in with an up-tempo banger. At (for Kyuss) a slender 2 minutes 42 seconds long, they waste no time on frivolities.

“One Inch Man” is classic Kyuss. A fuzzed-out, monolithic groove is initiated by Josh Homme’s guitar and Alfredo Hernández and Scott Reeder row in behind with a pulverising, battleship swing and consummate groove. John Garcia is in fine voice throughout, his distinctive tone cutting like a blade through murky blasts of down-tuned riffs. “One Inch Man” was the only single released from the album.

Instrumental “Thee Ol’ Boozeroony” bounces and grinds like all great Kyuss instrumentals. The band’s ability to deliver engaging instrumental songs always seemed effortless. It’s a short affair, too, at just 2 minutes 47 seconds. It’s worth noting, at this point, three songs into “..And The Circus Leaves Town,” we’re at less than 10 minutes run time. Whereas the previous album, “Welcome To Sky Valley’s”, first three songs ran for over 18 minutes.

“Gloria Lewis” is all tribal beats and colossal down-tuned guitars. It’s hypnotically infectious. John Garcia’s tormented protagonist shifts between a dreamy, spaced-out falsetto and a manic roar. “Phototropic” begins with a gorgeous, languid guitar and bass over an insistent steady drum beat. The song bares its teeth after the 2-minute mark, with speaker shredding fuzz guitar cascading against the driving bass and drums. John Garcia’s vocals sound distant and menacing.

“El Rodeo” opens with Homme’s guitar. Reeder’s sliding bass underpins his snaking riff. Once Hernández joins in, the feel is similar to a drunken Mariachi band. It oddly has the feel of a Primus song or even Tom Waits. It soon returns to familiar Kyuss territory of glacial riffs and pounding rhythms. Instrumental “Jumbo Blimp Jumbo” follows. Its clawing wah, drenched riff, and surging power chords are epic in scale.

“Tangy Zizzle” is a head-down romp, short and powerful. The desert blues of “Size Queen” offers clues to the sound Homme would explore later with Queens Of The Stone Age. It displays the type of “upside down” riff that would become a staple of the QOTSA sound. Next up, the band faithfully tackle “Catamaran” by desert rock legends Yawning Man, the previous band of new drummer Alfredo Hernández. Its beautiful verses perfectly reflect the vast open expanse of desert life.

The final listed track on the album is the 11-minute “Spaceship Landing.” It’s a massive slab of stoner riff rock. The song embodies the Kyuss of old, ditching the tight, short song structure for blissed-out, pulsating, spaced-out jams and monolithic riffs.

The first of two hidden tracks follows after four minutes of silence. “M’deea” isn’t so much a song; it’s more like a short stab of studio mumbo jumbo. Over ten minutes more silence follows before we get to “Day One”, which was initially released in Germany as part of the “Demon Cleaner” extended CD single under the title “Day One (To Dave and Krist)”. It was dedicated to the remaining Nirvana members, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. It’s a gorgeous, mournful song with a fitting lyric.
“Don’t be sad for what will never be
Be glad you didn’t have to see
This time became a part of me
And now this burning memory
The sun will break the night till dawn
And then we’ll tell some tales again
And when the time has come and gone
The wind will carry on and on..”

After the album’s release, Kyuss split. Homme joined the Screaming Trees for a two-year stint as guitarist before starting the hugely successful Queens Of The Stone Age. John Garcia would pump out excellent albums solo and with bands like Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano, and Vista Chino. Scott Reeder re-joined The Obsessed, released a solo album and albums with the Sun Sail Club, as well as producing many albums for acts like Sunn (((O, Orange Goblin, Karma To Burn and many more. Alfredo Hernández went on to join Homme in the first iteration of Queens Of The Stone Age.

The aptly titled “…And The Circus Leaves Town” was the closing chapter on one of the ’90s most influential bands. Kyuss blazed a trail across the music scene from 1991 to 1995. Beloved by every facet of the alternative rock and metal fanbase, their shows were a cross-section of music fans from disparate, far-reaching corners of the rock music universe. Dave Grohl once explained his first encounter with the Kyuss sound: “I saw Kyuss play in a small club in Seattle in 1992, and they were unlike any band I had ever seen. They blew my fucking mind. I was going to record stores, buying their albums to give to people. ‘Oh, you never heard of Kyuss? Here, lemme buy you this record.”

Kyuss were a very 90s proposition. A band who were stubbornly individual yet understood and respected what came before. Blending the heft of Black Sabbath with the aggression of Black Flag, theirs was a sound familiar yet brand new. “..And The Circus Leaves Town” is a fitting epitaph to a great band.